Directed by: Gene Kelly
Starring: Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau, Michael Crawford, Marianne McAndrew, Tommy Tune
Gene Kelly’s status as a director has always been a little on the sketchy side. His only successful films in that realm were co-directed by Stanley Donen, whose status as a director has never been in question. Just why it was decided that Kelly should helm this grotesquely over-budgeted film version of the popular stage musical, I have no idea, but it wasn’t the wisest of moves. What 20th Century Fox ended up with was a massively expensive — $25 million in 1969 terms — overstuffed turkey that all but destroyed the studio. Neither the box office draw of Barbra Streisand, nor Louis Armstrong being brought in on the strength of his popular recording of the title song, could save the film financially. Kelly managed to turn out a film that combined the worst elements of canned theater with the sillier excesses of the musical film, and almost none of it worked then or now. It somehow looks both overproduced and cheap at the same time — blame the painfully over-lit cinematography and antiseptically clean sets for that. Though she was criticized at the time (as much for not being Carol Channing as anything else), La Streisand is mostly what keeps the film watchable — well, that and the strange appeal that clings to all behemoth disasters.
In Brief: Hello, Dolly! seems marginally less appalling now than it did in 1969. What once merely screamed, “big budget-bad movie,” now comes across as harmless camp. Yeah, it’s still the last word in empty glitter-ball cinema, but the aroma of studio-crippling extravagance has dissipated. Still, when people say they don’t like musicals, you can assume that this is exactly what they have in mind.